The frustration mounted in a penalty-filled third period as Shenendehowa tried to figure out why its season opener wasn’t turning out as planned.
The eight-time sectional champion Plainsmen put plenty of solid shots on goal (50), but they only lit the lamp once and came away shaking their heads following a 5-1 non-league loss to perennial power Ithaca Saturday at Clifton Park Arena.
The Plainsmen were looking for big things after last year’s 13-10 team lost to rival Saratoga Springs in the Section II championship game. Shen lost only four seniors to graduation and returns most of its top scorers.
But those scorers couldn’t get the job done against Ithaca junior goalie Brandon Kasel, who gloved, kicked or deflected any shot that managed to slip past his huge array of defensemen.
And on the other side of the ice, Shenendehowa’s defenders left veteran goalie Brian Walter all alone on several breakaway threats by the Little Red, who seemed to be on the power play for most of the game.
“You’ve got to give Ithaca credit. They are always a good program,” said Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha. “They blocked a lot of shots with their big defensemen, and their goalie was outstanding tonight.”
But de la Rocha admitted that the Plainsmen didn’t show the kind of effort that he was hoping for.
“We didn’t look like the team I wanted us to look like,” he said. “We expected to play a lot better than this, and when our shots didn’t go in, especially in that first period, we started to get frustrated.”
The biggest change in momentum occurred in the second period, when Ithaca already had a 3-0 lead but the Plainsmen were on one of their few power plays.
Senior forward Kevin Miles set up junior forward Ryan Mortka just outside the crease, and Mortka finished with a strong wrister at 9:23 to cut the deficit to a pair of goals. The Shenendehowa faithful went crazy.
But just 42 seconds later, Chandler Paff capitalized on a 2-on-1 to beat Walter and expand the lead back to three goals at 4-1.
“That was definitely a big letdown for us after they scored so quickly,” said de la Rocha.
Ithaca ended up tacking on another power-play goal in the final period, this time a 5-on-3 score by senior defenseman Ryan Emerson, who notched two points on the day.
Shenendehowa was called for five penalties in that third period.
“We were definitely feeling the frustration by then,” said de la Rocha. “We wanted a much better start than this, and we fully expected to do just that. We knew Ithaca was a good team, but we worked hard in the preseason, and we looked very good. I think our players were surprised at how things turned out.
“This one game is not our season. But we have some work to do. I didn’t think we would be that flat. We had our scoring opportunities, though. We just didn’t finish them. But we also had some defensive lapses because of a lack of concentration, and we have to fix them. We will, though. It’s very early.”
Senior forward Michael Abdulky’s backhander on the power play got things started for Ithaca early in the first period. Shenendehowa put shot after shot on net but couldn’t get the equalizer.
The Little Red then put the game away with three goals in the second period.
Emerson carried the puck from his own defensive zone all the way up the far boards and then left the puck for freshman Scott Partington, whose wrister beat Walter at 1:36.
Carson Chase then stuffed in his own rebound at 7:13 for Ithaca’s third goal.
Shenendehowa hosts McQuaid in another non-league test Friday night at 7:30.
Ithaca 1 3 1 — 5
Shenendehowa 0 1 0 — 1
First period — 1, Ithaca, Abdulky (Cicchetti), 3:25 (pp).
Second period — 2, Ithaca, Partington (Emerson), 1:36. 3, Ithaca, C. Case (unassisted). 4, Shen, R. Mortka (Miles), 9:23 (pp). 5, Ithaca, Pfaff (Baylor), 10:05.
Third period — 6, Ithaca, Emerson (unassisted), 4:24 (pp).
Goalkeepers — Ithaca, Kasel, 49 saves; Shenendehowa, Walter, 17 saves.